Friday, February 22, 2013

Ukulele won't stay in tune? Here's some ideas...

If you're ukulele won't stay in tune, it's probably the strings or the tuning machines.  This is a common problem and can be very frustrating if you've never dealt with it before, but before you go bashing your uke into a wall out of frustration, here are some ideas that you can try....

1. New strings take time to settle in - If you recently restrung your ukulele, the strings will naturally slip out of tune for a while as they stretch and settle in.  Exercise some patience and keep retuning them every time they fall out of
tune.  Depending on how often you pick it up, this can take a looooong time (4-6 weeks if you pick it up to tune less frequently).  This settling in process can even occur with old strings that you take off (let's say for a repair of some sort) and put back on.

Tips:  To help speed the process along, there are a couple things you can try.  You can play on it (and tune it) more often.  This will drive you nuts having to tune it over and over again after just a few minutes of playing, but it can cut down the settling in time to a couple weeks.  You can also tune your strings up a full step for the first week (ADF#B instead of GCEA) to stretch them a little bit quicker.

2. Tune your strings tighter instead of looser - Here's what I mean...when tuning to a note...let's say G...tune your string tighter towards that note from Gb instead of looser from Ab.  If you have been tuning your strings down toward the note loosening the tension, this improper tuning practice might be the culprit.

3. Get some new strings! -  If your strings have been on your ukulele for a couple years or longer, it might be that the strings are worn out and you need to replace them.

4. Too many string wraps around the tuning peg - If the string has been wrapped around the tuning peg more than 3 times, this also might the problem.  Loosen the strings, pull the excess string through the tuning peg, tune them up, and cut off the excess string.  You'll have to let them settle in again before you can determine if this is the problem or not.
Tips: I find that 2-3 wraps around the tuning peg is about right.

5. Tighten your tuning machines - If the above ideas aren't helping, odds are that it's your tuning machines.  If your tuning machines are geared, then you might have a bad tuner...this is easy to diagnose if you're only having a tuning problem with one string.  If you have friction tuners, then you need to tighten them a little bit.  Take a screwdriver and give that little screw on your tuning machine a quarter turn to the right.  If that doesn't do it, give it another quarter turn and try again.  Repeat this process until the string stops slipping out of tune.
Tips:  if you're not sure about the difference between geared tuners and friction tuners, check out my blog post about them here.  If you have geared tuning machines, DO NOT TIGHTEN THE SCREWS!

I hope that this helps you get your ukulele in tune and keeps it there.  These beautiful little instruments should bring hours of joy...not frustration.  Happy Uke'n!

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